The role of socioscientific issues in biology teaching – from the perspective of teachers

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Previous research has documented that students who engage with socioscientific issues can acquire some of the complex competences and skills typically related to scientific literacy. But an emerging field of research on science teachers’ understanding and use of socioscientific issues, has documented that a range of challenges hinders the uptake of socioscientific issues. In this study we investigated the interpretation and implementation of socioscientific issues among Danish biology teachers – who teach in a curriculum that, on paper, is permeated by socioscientific issues. We conducted five in-depth group interviews (with a total of 11 teachers) and sought to validate and expand on the emergent themes from the teachers’ talk-in-interaction by distributing a wider, primarily open-ended questionnaire (100 responding teachers). Our findings suggest that the participating teachers generally harbour a content-centred interpretation of socioscientific issues which manifests itself in at least three separate ways. First, the teachers generally use socioscientific issues as a means to an end of teaching factual biological content. Second, the teachers had a clear emphasis on mastery of factual content in their assessment practices. Third, the teachers tended to reduce socioscientific issues (e.g. should we allow GMOs) to specific biological contents (DNA) in a way that does not seem to allow students to engage with the real socioscientific issue. Our findings are particularly significant for science educators, policy-makers and curriculum designers, as we argue that key aspects of this content-centred interpretation may be a coping strategy used in order to navigate a divided curriculum.
Original languageDanish
JournalInternational Journal of Science Education
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)44-61
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 2017

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